Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe – (Silence! The Court Is In Session) – 1971, Marathi

-Manjula Jonnalagadda

“Women’s liberty”, “women’s independence” are words on everybody’s lips these days, but they stay on the lips and don’t go any further. Do you know why? I’ve found out that liberty can be obtained neither by theoretical arguments, nor by pleading justice and morality, nor by staging a concerted quarrel with men at a meeting. It’s something that no one can give to another – not something to be owed or paid as a due. can easily understand that it comes of its own accord – through one’s own fulfillment, by the enlargement of one’s own soul.” 

Saratchandra Chattopadhyay

Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe is a Marathi film directed by Satyadev Dubey, based on a play by Vijay Tendulkar. This play was inspired by Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s play, later a novella called Traps.  This film started the New Cinema Movement in Marathi cinema. This is the debut film of actors Amol Palekar and Amrish Puri. This also the first film of Govind Nihalani as a cinematographer.

Satyadev Dubey was primarily a theater director and a playwright. He produced many important plays in Indian theater. He is also credited with discovering Andhayug of Dharamvir Bharati which is considered a new paradigm for Indian theater. He wrote screenplays and dialogue for a few films, mostly for the director Shyam Benegal. He won Sangeet Natak Akademi award and the National award for the best screen play for the film Bhumika.  Shantata! Court Chalu Aahe is the only feature film he directed.

Vijay Tendulkar is a well respected playwright who wrote in Marathi. His plays have been translated to other languages and performed all over India. A few of his plays have also been adapted into film. Vijay Tendulkar also co-wrote the screenplay for this film.

The film begins in a train with a man leering at Ms Benare. Ms Benare is part of a theater troupe that is traveling to a village to stage a play. The troupe realizes that two people amongst them will not be making it on time for the performance. Ms Benare teaches English at a high school. She talks to men without any reservations which is considered bold at that time (the play is written in 1968).  

They recruit Samant who works at the host’s house to act in the play. Mr. Sukhatme would play both roles of prosecutor and defense lawyer. Ms. Benare would play the accused. Ms. Benare is accused of infanticide and being pregnant out of wedlock. The actor begin to rehearse. The accusation feels a little too close to the personal life of Ms. Benare. Her character is dragged into the court, it is revealed that Ms. Benare is pregnant with the child of Mr. Damle who is part of the troupe but couldn’t make it that day. What happens next makes the rest of the film. 

The film tries to show two things. The gossipy nature of human being. People are interested in salacious details of the personal life of people they know. The  troupe members are interested in the personal life of Benare, they want her secrets out in the guise of the play.

The other and the main point of the film is the choices and lack of them a woman has about how she can go on living her own life. Benare loves her uncle as a teenager. She couldn’t marry him, so she tries to commit suicide. She falls in love with Damle, but he just wants her body. She wants to keep her baby. But the baby will have to grow up without father against the norms of the society. Her life style becomes controversial and her past is shamed even though as part of a play, causing her trauma. Despite being independent, her choices are limited. 

This film is an acting powerhouse with some of the finest theater actors of that time. Aravind Deshpande as a director of the play and a sleazy prosecutor is fantastic! Sulbha Deshpande as Benare is excellent! The Deshpandes, a married couple in real life (they are not married in the play) played their roles in the theater as well. Amol Palekar as Ponske is also really good! Rest of the cast is very good as well!

This is Govind Nihlani’s first film as a cinematographer. He worked as an assistant to V.K. Murthy prior to this film. Nihlani’s work is excellent! His usage of shadows is very good! The film is shot indoors mostly. 

Direction by Satyadev Dubey is fantastic! Too bad this is the only film he directed, even though he directed several plays. Background score is good as well!

Watch this film as this is like no other! It is delight to see these actors, and this is a film that stays with you for a while.


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